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Birmingham MP's 'arrogant' letter to Bernie Grant revealed

NOT WELCOME: Bernie Grant

A LETTER sent to Bernie Grant from five Birmingham Labour MPs almost 30 years ago has revealed a shocking arrogance towards the prominent black politician’s planned trip to the city in 1987.

Grant, who in April of that year was weeks away from becoming Labour MP for Tottenham, had accepted an invitation to Birmingham to encourage the black community to vote for the Labour party in the forthcoming 1987 General Election.

But a letter written by Robin Corbett, the then Labour MP for Erdington on behalf of fellow MPs Roy Hattersley, Denis Powell, Jeff Rooker and Terry Davis, clearly states that Grant was not welcome in Birmingham and orders him to keep away.

“We understand that you are coming to Birmingham on April 7th to attend a meeting organised by a small, unrepresentative group of people who claim to be concerned about the problems of some ethnic communities within our city,” wrote Corbett.

“As Labour MPs in Birmingham, fully committed to racial equality and ending discrimination, we want to make it clear that neither Birmingham District Labour Party not the city council needs any advice from you or Haringey and Lambeth Council.”

The letter goes on to advise Grant that he should sort out problems in his own area before coming to Birmingham “to give us the doubtful benefit of your advice.”

In the end, ill-health put a stop to Grant’s visit as he was in hospital. However, he replied, calling the letter “most arrogant.”

“My purpose was to encourage black people to both join and vote for the Labour party at this important time,” wrote Grant. “I would have thought that such a meeting would be welcomed by all party members, particularly MPs.

“I will continue to go to such meetings wherever people, both black and white, wish to hear what I have to say. It is my duty to do so; I am certainly not prepared to be dictated to about where I should go – so far as I know there are no pass laws in Britain yet.”

The letters are being highlighted as part of an event dedicated to Grant and his legacy on Wednesday April 8th called “Marginalised No More.” It is being organised by the Bernie Grant Trust at Tottenham’s Bernie Grant Arts Centre, to mark the 15th anniversary of Grant’s passing on 8th April 2000 at the age of 56.

'ARROGANT': Grant described this letter, written by Robin Corbett, the then Labour MP for Erdington on behalf of fellow MPs Roy Hattersley, Denis Powell, Jeff Rooker and Terry Davis, as arrogant

Community activist Desmond Jaddoo, founder of Birmingham’s Empowerment Forum, told The Voice: “We wonder why the black community does not engage in the political process – letters like this put it all into perspective.

“It shows the systemic refusal to allow proper engagement with the African Caribbean community. The 1980s were a very serious time for our community with disturbances across the country. Bernie Grant’s mission was to say: ‘you don’t need to do this’ get involved in the political system and use your vote.

“Personally, I am deeply shocked that such respected Birmingham MPs such as Denis Howell were prepared to put their names to this arrogant, rude letter.”

Jaddoo added: “It also puts into perspective the recent struggle experienced by Birmingham Labour councillor Paulette Hamilton in her selection process.”

Social commentator Patrick Vernon, OBE, who was born in the Wolverhampton constituency where Enoch Powell was MP, explained that the letters have been in the public domain for many years as they are part of the Bernie Grant Archives at the Bishopsgate Institute in London.

“Sharon Grant, Bernie’s widow, is secretary of the Bernie Grant Trust and she highlighted these letters as part of Bernie’s commemoration event as they illustrate his tenacity and commitment.”

Vernon added: “I feel the letters also show that little has changed for the black community in the challenges we face. There are still disproportionately high numbers of black people who are stopped and searched and sectioned, yet a great under representation of this same community in public life.

“It’s quite shocking that there are no African Caribbean MPs at all representing the West Midlands and this is mirrored in many UK cities north of Birmingham.”

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